The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic by Owen Davies

The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic
Edited by Owen Davies
Oxford University Press, 2017

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Review by Jason Mankey.

This is a challenging — and mostly academic — look at magical traditions over the last 3,000 years. I’m a huge fan of Davies’ contributions to magical history, especially Grimoires: A History of Magical Books and Popular Magic: Cunning Folk in English History, and this volume is a solid supplement to that work. But because it’s a collection featuring several different scholars, the tone throughout is uneven, and some essays feel far more relevant and enlightening than others.

While reading Witchcraft and Magic, I couldn’t stop wondering who the intended audience for this book is. It’s far too academic for casual readers, and probably not in-depth enough for academics. Topics I was intimately familiar with (such as the emergence of the Modern Craft) felt like they were given short shrift, while things I was less interested in seemed to take up more space. Often times I felt as I were reading a text-book designed for college students enrolled in Religious Studies 101.

Readers looking for a history of Modern Witchcraft along the lines of Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon will be mightily disappointed. Modern spiritual Witchcraft covers just eight or so pages, with no mention of Victor and Cora Anderson nor of the rise of “Traditional Witchcraft” over the last ten or so years.

I also found a chapter on “Witchcraft and Magic in Anthropology” somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps it was fashionable to call the magic of the Azande people of Sudan “witchcraft” in the 1920’s, but I think we can do better today. I’m sure they have their own name for it, and translating native interpretations of magic to simply “witchcraft” feels limiting and reads as a desire to place everything in a Euro-centric box). We can and should do better.

Despite these criticisms, there are things about this book that I genuinely enjoyed. It’s an absolutely beautiful book: the images alone make this book worth flipping through, with many far outside the realm of “the usual” pictures one sees in books and articles about magical traditions.

The book is at its best when discussing the modern period, and the majority of the text covers the last 600 years or so. I once read that it takes about thirty years for new academic information to reach the masses, and anyone looking for up to date academic interpretations of Europe and North America’s Witch Trials will find them here. Davies’ own chapter on “The World of Popular Magic” is a welcome antidote to much of the unscholarly information currently floating around about cunning-craft and other forms of folk magic.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an academic approach to society’s views on magic and witchcraft over the last several hundred years.

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John Dee and the Empire of Angels by Jason Louv

John Dee and the Empire of Angels: Enochian Magick and the Occult Roots of the Modern World
Jason Louv
Inner Traditions, 2018

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Review by Barbara Ardinger.

Let’s begin with a spoiler. Although many Neopagans are interested in occultism and the work of the 16th-century astrologer John Dee, it’s important to keep in mind that Dee was nothing close to pagan. He and Kelly spoke to and were visited by angels and demons (or hallucinations), not classical gods or goddesses. Enochian magick and visits by angels and demons are concepts based on Jewish, Christian, and Islamic holy books, both exoteric and esoteric. Dee’s angelic work influenced the Golden Dawn, which sort of counts as pagan because the late 19th-century group added some (mostly Egyptian) gods and goddesses to the elaborate angelic names and calls, watchtowers, tablets, sigilla, and altar “furniture” the angels and demons gave Dee. (There are some nifty color plates of these things in the book.)

Many Witches and Pagans are interested in history, ceremonial magic, the occult world (which author Jason Louv calls “the occulture”) and its practices. These practices include operative magic, which Louv defines as applying the “intellectual streams” of the Renaissance to “uncover a working methodology for interacting with and manipulating the universe” (pp. 61-62) — i.e., pretty much what we do every day. If you’re attracted to the occult, this excellent book should be in your hands. It’s well written, insightful, sometimes witty, and thoroughly researched, with 60 pages of endnotes, bibliography, and index, plus numerous footnotes.

Louv, a writer and teacher of magick and spirituality, opens the book in the Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man. Next, comes the “sublunary world,” which is apparently the fallen world we live in. The stage is now set for Book 1, “The Magus,” which contains a biography of the frustrated and usually poverty-stricken Elizabethan mathematician, intellectual, astrologer/astronomer, and scientist John Dee (1527-1609), who spent much of his life aspiring to be an adviser to a queen or a king but with little success, mostly because the royal advisers considered him a quack. Also explained in the first seven chapters are the Christian interpretations of the Book of Revelation. Louv also asserts that Dee’s work set both England and America on their paths to empire.

Book II, “The Angelic Conversations,” tells us how to rise up along the paths of the Qabalistic Tree and how to prepare a proper altar for the angelic work. Louv trudges through the magical Books (which all have Latin names), Watchtowers, and Aethyrs. We also meet angels and demons and the god that inflicts suffering on us to teach us how to behave ourselves. There’s also some alchemy, but very little gold in the monetary sense. It’s all metaphorical gold.

Book III, “The Antichrist,” is mostly devoted to the life and works of Aleister Crowley, Jack Parsons, and other occultists who followed them in working (magically and with the help of drugs and lots of sex) to become as evil as possible so that they can become as holy as possible. Chapter 15, “The Invisible College,” introduces us to learned men from the 16th to the 21st century and describes the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons and Masons, the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA), and the founding of the Golden Dawn. Chapter 16, “Crowned and Conquering,” is mostly about Crowley the 666 Beast and takes us in scrupulous — not to mention almost endless — detail through all thirty Aethyrs. These are visions and words of power. Chapter 17, “In the Shadow of the Cross,” introduces us to Crowley’s organization, the A..A.. and gives us more Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), and assorted people who wanted to meet Babalon, who is (to oversimplify) sexual Woman as the Supreme Evil.

Finally, Louv asserts that the work of John Dee initiated a line that reaches from the Reformation through 18th-century rationalism to the 20th century — hippies, the New Age, every strange and wonderful movement away from middle-class mores — and into the 21st century and the election of Donald Trump (really! See pp. 458-59). We’re in the middle of the modern Apocalypse now, and the last words in the book are “Christ is coming, and with him he shall bring an Empire of Angels.” (p. 462) The book, incidentally, was written in the City of Angels.

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The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook by Kenaz Filan

The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook
by Kenaz Filan
Destiny Books, 2011
320 pages

Reviewed by innowen

The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook is a introductory text on practicing the New Orleans blend of voodoo. Filan acquaints the reader to what exactly this is, how it differs from Haitian voodoo, and gives you a history of the practice, its influences, and loa. Finally, there is a small chapter that includes some things the reader can try out.

Good

Many pagan books delve right into the practical hands-on of their topic without giving any background information. While I do enjoy books of that nature, The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook, spends most of its time laying the groundwork to tell the reader how the region was formed and how this tints the flavor of magic/conjure that comes out of the city. You can practically smell the foods, or hear the blues while reading the book. I also loved how the structure of the book builds off from the previous chapters. Doing so made a great transition from the historical, to the knowledge on the loa, and to the conjure and practical stuff in the later chapters.

Bad

This book is billed as a guide to the practices and tools and formulas of New Orleans voodoo, and there are some but the bulk of the book is culture and history. I was hoping that the book would help me delve a bit more into the practices that make voodoo mysterious. Instead I learned a lot more about the history of the region, the people who are prominent, and the loa worshipped. I really didn’t get the hands on aspect that I was hoping for.

Bottom Line: I recommend The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook for those who want to learn more about the culture and beginnings of the spiritual tradition. This book is light on how-tos but is filled with the background information needed to really tie the spiritual practice into it’s rightful place in magical traditions. For those who want to know more about the practical aspects, you can probably find websites (like Lucky Mojo) more resourceful on the hands on.

3.5 pawprints out of 5

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Phantom Armies of the Night by Claude Lecouteux

Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead
Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 2011
320 pages

Reviewed by Uloboridae

As the title promises, this text is a detailed introduction to the “Wild Hunt” literary theme found throughout Europe. Dr. Lecouteux frames the entire book around the hypothesis that the Wild Hunt theme is an ancient pagan fertility (“third function”) motif of Indo-European origin that was later modified for Christian uses.

The first two-thirds of the book is spent looking at the various figures within the stories, their origins, and the many ways the stories were used for promoting a Christian worldview, particularly regarding sinful actions. This is mainly organized as a timeline, with the first chapters starting with the stories in early 1000s and gradually becoming more recent in later chapters. This is where he identifies, and then separates, the Christian additions from what he recognizes as the original Pagan framework. This method results in quite a large chunk of the book dedicated to explaining Christian clerical beliefs. The author starts out with the “Good Women” troops and the troops of the dead, and then goes into the troops that participate in a hunt or a procession of some sort. The troops of the dead reappear in later chapters to clarify the differences between these types of processions.

He also identifies the regional variations of the figures and stories, focusing mainly on Germanic regions (primarily today’s UK, Germany, Denmark, Austria, and parts of Scandinavia) and Germanic-influenced regions in Spain, France, Italy, and Central Europe. Attention is given to famous figures such as King Herla, Hellequin, and Perchta along with lesser known ones such as Oskeria, Dame Abundia, and Guro. Little attention is given to non-Germanic cultures, which is disappointing, but understandable, given that his professional background is specifically Medieval Germanic literature.

Eventually the author ends his timeline-based exploration in chapters 11 and 12 with the evolution of the Wild Hunt stories in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. He discusses the romance of Fauvel to lead into the more exploratory aspects of the processions, such as the rowdy troops of the living that imitate the dead and devils. Pausing briefly for a chapter on Scandinavian folklore that resemble more basal Wild Hunt stories, the author then ties up the previous 12 chapters with a review on shared themes and other scholars’ interpretations.
The author then concludes with a dismissal of Odin as a Wild Hunt leader, going into detail as to why he is not a true huntsman figure, and an exploration of living processions that are linked to the lore processions. His final chapter recognizes the fact that no true conclusion can be met about the nature of the Wild Hunt and related stories, a refreshing attitude for books of this subject. The appendixes are translations of old stories and poems that depict or refer to the Wild Hunt and other processions, free of Dr. Lecouteux’s interpretations (those are given in earlier chapters).

Overall, I found this book to be informative from both a historical and a religious viewpoint. There are times where he asserts an idea as if it were fact (particularly with linguistic connections being used to “prove” or “disprove” an aspect or being of the Wild Hunt), which one would not be able to check unless they were familiar with the field. This situation forces a regular reader to either accept his word, or ignore it, which I find a bit distracting. I prefer to have context and information to support either decision, rather than mentally flipping a coin to decide which way to go. Usually I end up just ignoring the unsupported assertions, which thankfully does not interrupt the rest of the book.

This book is written in an academic voice, requiring some sections to be reread to fully comprehend them. Occasionally the book felt dragging due to the repetition of ideas and interpretations. Dr. Lecouteux also has a tendency to pack his books with information, which can be both good and bad. Good because historical Pagan information is limited and many of us need every bit we can find. Bad, because there is often no room left to give context to the random tidbits. Since the book was originally written in French, the references are mostly French and German sources, so trying to trace the information is nearly impossible for other language speakers to do. For someone like me who wants to double-check something for “truthfulness”, this can be irksome.

However, the author is excellent in keeping a neutral, professional tone in his work. He does not promote or degenerate Christianity or Paganism, nor does he reveal which “side” he is on (if any at all). His interest is solely academic, allowing this book to appeal to a variety of readers. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves European and Religious history and lore, as well as those seeking to understand the differences between Christian and Pagan worldviews. It will make an interesting addition to their library. However, due to the lack of context for some ideas, I would not recommend this book to those new to historical paganism. This is a “201” book, something to read after basic knowledge on Pagan worldviews has already been obtained and understood.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

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Abydos by David O’Connor

Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris
David O’Connor
Thames & Hudson, 2011
216 pages

Reviewed by Devo

If you have any interest in Abydos or early Egyptian tombs/structures, this would be a good book for you. The information is well written and seems to be pretty bias free. The author is very good at stating what we know, what we don’t know, and his thoughts on what might have happened. He doesn’t present his theories as truths- which is something a lot of Egyptological books have a problem with. For this reason alone, I would recommend this book. However, there is a lot of useful information in general. I learned quite a bit about Abydos- its structures, its history. The only thing I would have liked to have learned more about is Osiris- his cult and how his cult interacted with Khentiamentiu. However, there is still a fair amount of information regarding Osiris’ cult and his temple.

He goes in depth about the history of Abydos- from dynasty 0 all the way to the Late Period. He discusses various building projects there, talks about the layout and designs of many of the temples, the anomalies of some of the structures and what we can learn from them. Considering that Abydos is usually only mentioned as being “Osiris’ city” or “the place where Seti built that big temple with the kings list”- it’s nice to see a more in depth approach. Of course, as O’Connor mentions in his book- you find some answers, only to come up with more questions. I, too, have more questions for having read this book, but I have more answers too.

A particular quote that I liked:

The vast cemetery field comprising the Middle and North cemeteries and Umm el Qa’ab was personified as Hapetnebes, “Shoe who hides her lord”, a term peculiar to Abydos. The endless, open desert plain of Abydos was imagined to be a goddess, generated by & embodied in the landscape itself. “She who hides her lord” was complex in meaning. At one level, this goddess as landscape literally hid and thus protected Osiris himself- buried at Umm el Qa’ab – as well as his countless followers, eash one also an Osiris entombed in the Abydene cemeteries. But Hapetnebes was also a more positive force in that Osiris, buried within her, experienced revitalization or rebirth every year. In this perspective, “She who hides her lord’ is virtually lanscape conceited of as a mother goddess, in whose womb lies the potential for and actualization of life. She thus relates to the subtle interplay of meaning btwn desert and floodplain in the prototypical Egyptian landscape. The desert, seemingly dead, generates life for Osiris and deceased Egyptians; and thus relates to those more obvious manifestations of vitatlity and reproduction, the inundation and consequent vegetation, both seen as manifestations of Osiris’ capacity to regenerate.

He also discussed a bit about what we modernly call the Mysteries of Osiris. It was common for the Mysteries to involve a procession that started at Osiris’ temple and worked towards Umm el Qa’ab- what was believed to be Osiris’ tomb. During the procession, agents of Set would try to stop these people by attacking them. Of course, Osiris’ “team” would win, and they’d make their way to the tomb where rituals were more than likely done. This was also an interesting tidbit to learn.

I think for me, besides the two nuggets above, the biggest help this book served for me was to learn about early dynastic pharaohs. Most authors completely skip over early and pre-dynastic Egypt. More or less saying that they were there, stopping to look at Menes, Scorpion King, Narmer Pallet… and then moving on. If you’re lucky, you might see “Naqada” listed. However, O’Connor does go pretty deep into early dynastic goings on in Abydos (at least in regards to the structures there). So I feel like I’ve had a huge history gap somewhat filled. I know that this comes with the territory- Abydos housing tombs for early kings and all, but it was still nice.

Overall, I would recommend this book. I will add the caveat that it’s not likely meant for absolute beginners- if you don’t have a basis of Egyptian history or terminology, you might want to start elsewhere. That aside, it’s well written and has good information. And if you’re into Osiris or Abydos in general- it helps to give a more complete picture of both. The author is respectful of his subject matter, and I think he approaches the topics that he discusses really well. So go read it!

4.5 pawprints out of 5

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Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Jared Diamond
Norton, 1999
496 pages

I’m sure there are going to be people scratching their heads in complete confusion when they see this book on Pagan Book Reviews. However, this blog isn’t just for books that are specifically about paganism, but are also useful to pagans. And this one is useful–for giving us perspective.

See, lot of (usually, though not always, white) neopagans romanticize their conceptions of what “tribal” societies are like, and glorify rather unrealistic portrayals of hunter-gatherer and basic agrarian societies. This is not to say that these societies aren’t of value; quite the contrary. But many pagans have insufficient understandings of what makes a society sustainable, which then turn into overly simplistic arguments about how technology is evil and indigenous people are noble savages.

The beautiful thing about Guns, Germs and Steel is that Diamond painstakingly traces the various factors that caused some societies to advance technologically quicker than others, ranging from access to large, domesticatible animals and cultivatible plants, to proximity to animals that can pass on diseases and build a population’s immune system, to specific geographical and geological features, and so forth. Obviously, the book is not flawless; Diamond, despite his attempts to be matter-of-fact, still shows a Eurocentric bias in some areas; additionally, this book should not be seen as the do-all and end-all of its subject matter. But there are a lot of salient arguments here, too.

For pagans, it’s a nice break from the sometimes technophobic attitudes that pop up. Additionally, as neopagans are mostly found in developed, English-speaking and/or European-culture-based nations, it’s a good look at societies outside of those contexts. And who can’t use a good history lesson now and then?

Four pawprints out of five.

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Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

Daughters of the Witching Hill
Mary Sharratt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010
352 pages

Note: This is a guest review by Bronwen Forbes, who graciously agreed to help me clean up my backlog of review books as I continue to slog through grad school.

In 1612, seven women and two men were tried and hanged as witches in Lancashire, England. Sharratt, who lives in Lancashire, has written an extraordinary fictional account of the lives of these alleged witches, the trial, and the times.
Cunning woman Elizabeth Demdike grew up in Catholic England, but when the Protestant Reformation makes her faith illegal, she still manages to use the prayers of her childhood to bless and cure her sick neighbors and their livestock. She is aided in her efforts by Tibb, a familiar spirit who loves her as her husband never did.

But Elizabeth’s best friend Anne is visited by a familiar spirit of her own, and chooses a different path than Elizabeth – one of curses and fear instead of healing and hope.

In time, Elizabeth’s granddaughter Alizon develops powers similar to her grandmother’s. Instead of learning to use them and consequently embracing the Old Religion (Catholicism), Alizon rejects her family heritage. When she has an unfortunate angry encounter with a peddler that leaves the man completely paralyzed on one side, charges of witchcraft are brought – not only on Alizon but also on her entire family and their closest friends. Alizon can only pray and not lose faith as the story reaches its tragic, inevitable conclusion.

Sharratt uses transcripts of the actual trials as the basis for the book, as well as stories and legends from around Lancashire. The result is an extremely well-written, highly detailed story that will effortlessly transport the reader to a time when James I was king and his book Daemonologie, was number one on the 17th century England bestseller list. It’s one thing to know the characters are, or were, real people. Sharrat brings them to full life, flaws and all, but without turning them into stereotypes. They could be your dotty grandmother, your annoying little sister, your childhood friend.

Which is not to say that, as a Pagan reader, this was a particularly easy read. Quite the opposite, in fact. New Pagans may feel outrage about the over-inflated “nine million” victims of the “Burning Times” but reading a detailed narrative of the arrest, trial and hanging of one young person has a much deeper emotional impact. I cried at the end. This book should be on every modern witch’s bookshelf.

Five gold paws out of five

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The Idumean Covenant by Eugene Stovall

The Idumean Covenant: A Novel of the Fall of Jerusalem
Eugene Stovall
OPC, 2009
430 pages

Note: This is a guest review by Bronwen Forbes, who graciously agreed to take on some of the extra review copies I had when I decided to go on semi-hiatus.

Guest reviewer Bronwen Forbes again with the third book that Lupa invited me to comment upon here.
The Idumean Covenant is the story of two men, Robban and Lupo who find themselves caught up in the fall of Jerusalem in the time of the Roman emperor Nero. When childhood friends Robban and Lupo run away from their powerful yet benevolent owner, they join the Sicarii, an army of Jewish bandits that are sworn to liberate Jerusalem from its Roman rulers. The two friends inadvertently find themselves making history as the son of their former owner rises in power.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. I even tried to set aside my longstanding dislike of novels that are told in third person present tense (“Josephus remains immobile, saying nothing.”). But when character point-of-view switched every few paragraphs, I quickly gave up on whose head I was supposed to be in at any given moment. Very confusing.

There is also an overabundance of telling the reader about the major historical events that frame the novel, rather than placing the characters in those events and letting the reader see them through the character’s eyes. I am not a scholar of this particular period in history (that’s my history professor husband’s job), so I was completely lost as to the deep significance of these events as they pertained to the novel. And without a good understanding of the historical events, the entire point of the story was lost to me.

For instance, the author indicates that the Sicarii raids on Roman caravans is a major plot point, yet the reader is only told about these raids in a few lecture-dreary info-dump paragraphs. Seeing the raids, being there with Robban and Lupo would have been much more effective and interesting to read. Sadly, this is just one of many examples of why “show, don’t tell” is Rule #1 for all good fiction authors.

However, the story (as opposed to the mini historic lectures) is well-written with interesting, sympathetic characters, and Stovall is quite good at illustrating little details about life in the first century c.e. Jerusalem. Perhaps someone more familiar with the history of the period would appreciate the book more.

Three pawprints out of five.

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ChristoPaganism by Joyce and River Higginbotham

ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path
Joyce and River Higginbotham
Llewellyn, 2009
310 pages

Hoo, boy. This book is bound to stir up controversy. There are plenty of pagans who seem to have no qualms with drawing inspiration and practices from other religions–pretty much all of them, except for Christianity. You have Jewish witches, and those who draw on indigenous religions (despite the protests of some indigenous practitioners!) Yet try mixing Christianity and paganism, and you get all sorts of complaints from those who say it can’t be done (no doubt many of whom are speaking from a history of bad experiences with Christianity–or at least Christians).

However, for those whose experiences in such blending do undeniably work, or for those who wish to give it a try, this is an invaluable text. The authors have a strong understanding of the theological concepts that go into blending such a seemingly difficult interfaith blending, and make a good case for it. They start out by giving good foundational explanations of neopaganism and Christianity. Some may balk at the “unconventional” approach to Christianity they present, which challenges a lot of assumptions that casual Christians may have, and goes back to a variety of historical research that shows a very different origin and growth of the religion than is popularly understood. (No, I’m not talking about the various grail mythos thingies that talk about Jesus and Mary Magdelene in Europe–it’s much better scholarship than that.)

In making the case for interfaith blending, they draw on a variety of contemporary sources, not the least of which are the writings of Ken Wilber as well as spiral dynamics. I will admit that I thought that occasionally the general message of a broader perspective being more evolved read like it translated into interfaith = more evolved, but a closer reading without this kneejerk reaction gave me a better sense of what the authors were trying to say–that a more evolved perspective allows for the existence of, but doesn’t necessarily include personally, such things. This sounds controversial, but this is a controversial book to begin with, so in for a penny, in for a pound!

There’s also a nicely substantial section of personal testimonies from folks who have done various combinations of Christianity and neopaganism. This may be really helpful to those who feel alone in their path, as well as give ideas on how-tos without dealing with dogma.

Ultimately, many people are going to come to this book with their biases intact whether I advise them to or not; needless to say, I still recommend approaching it with as open a mind as possible. Of all the ways this combination of faiths could have been presented, this is probably one of the sanest and most well-thought-out. While it’s not my personal path, for anyone who has been wanting resources on the topic of mixing Christian and neopagan religious beliefs and practices, this is a great text to have on hand.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Weiser Concise Guide to Aleister Crowley by Richard Kaczynski

The Weiser Concise Guide to Aleister Crowley
Richard Kaczynski, Ph.D.
Weiser Books, 2009
126 pages

A few years ago, when I was working on exploring different magical paradigms as part of my time as a Chaos magician, I did some basic reading up on Aleister Crowley. I read the Book of the Law, Magick Without Tears, Duquette’s The Magick of Thelema, and made an unsuccessful attempt to get through the Big Blue Brick. I was never a Thelemite, but it was enough to get a basic taste of what the fuss was all about.

Reading The Weiser Concise Guide is sort of like having the Cliff’s Notes version of all that. There’s a very brief, quick biography; a brief, quick introduction to his magical accomplishments; a brief, quick overview of the various magical orders he founded or was a part of; a brief, quick selection of basic rituals; and so forth. Granted, this is a concise guide, one of several this publisher has put out, but there’s so much of Crowley out there that it’s almost impossible to leave an impression in this text of anything more than a car speeding down a highway seeing billboards for various sights, but never pulling off the road.

This made it a sometimes frustrating read, especially as sometimes the transition from topic to topic seemed choppy. I also think that if I hadn’t already read some of his material and otherwise familiarized myself with it that some of what was described might have gone over my head. A basic understanding of occultism and magic will definitely help with parsing this text, though there’s a fair amount, particularly in the biographical portion, that may be accessible to anyone.

Still, the author did an admirable job of trying to distill the essential Crowley into a little over 100 pages. He even managed to add in a good sample of practical material for the “Crowley experience”, as it were. I wouldn’t recommend this as one’s only book on Crowley and related material, but it’s as good a starting point as any, and for someone already familiar with magic and occultism who wants just enough Crowley to know the bare-bones basics to get started with, this is a good choice. Also, do be aware that there are numerous feuds and arguments (to say the very least) among Thelemites and other Crowley fans, and while the author tried to maintain a certain amount of neutrality, there will no doubt be those who can pull political arguments out of the writing of this text. That being said, there is a minimum of actual interpretation of Crowley’s works (though a largely positive view of Crowley himself), and it’s a mostly “just the fact’s ma’am” approach.

Four pawprints out of five.

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